Wine and beer are acquired tastes that only strenghen with age. So it goes with toys from the French toymaker Fernand Martin. Oft broken and disrobed on the current market, these historic toys deserve to be seen in new old stock condition to appreciate the genius. So when J. Arthur Verdoorn, Fernand Martin & Lourens Bas teamed up to produce a book, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the company’s production from 1878-1912.
U.S. toy collectors get pummeled with the larger, heavier, and stronger domestic toys. Imports by Marklin even skew our concept of tin. So opposed to the thick and rugged is the thinner and finessed toys by Martin. It was a joy to see all the windup mechanisms and intricate movements engineered into these contraptions.
The book is rich in company details and Martin’s history. In Martin’s own words “Instead of on demand production, which entailed 15 hour working days, we started to work according to a regular schedule, all year round, year after year. All of my labourers preferred this, and so did I. Of the two hundred items I can show you, not even ten were offered to me by other inventors. All of the others are my very own work, and a few of my creations were fairly successful.”
Color plates are used throughout and detailed reviews begin with Number 1 “Poisson Naguer 1878” with the Fish swimming in “water in a true-to-life way, with a wound-up rubber band for a mechanism” at 19 cm long. Official numbering tails off at entry 265 “Voiture Nounou Poupon” or a nanny and babe. Each true to life creation is a window back in time.
Entry number 43, La Chaloupe A Vapeur 1893 documents a boat I haven’t seen before and gives collectors a glimpse into rarities. In this photo we see a man on a steam powered boat using a long telescoping rudder handle. Tin paint detail is enticing with hues of green, black, gold, red, and white, along with what looks to be brass parts. While I wish for more detail, I’m just happy to know about this toy’s existance. It lies in a private collection.
Pages 177 to 181 detail a great article called “Playthings” published in 1909. The historic article details Fernand Martin’s rise to fame and eventual “thirty-seven gold and silvers” and “cross of the Legion of Honor, [and] is known in the remotest corner of the toy world as the man who placed the mechanical tin toy in the field at a price which made it a possibility for every home.”.
Towards page 224 of the extensive book we get details on possible imitator or plagiarist toys of the time. Details are given and full color photos help the research. A final index at page 240 allows all the pertinent details and pages to be looked up. It is much more efficient and exacting than similar research books.
Readers may still be able to source this book via the authors: http://www.fernandmartintoys.com
To sum up the book “Fernand Martin, Toymaker in Paris, 1878-1912” I must declare “Magnifique!” It will take me a lifetime to absorb this authoratitve walk through Martin’s Paris; his toys reside in the golden age of tin. I’m sure I won’t be the only inspired reader searching for a Martin tin at auction.